Read John 4: 5-42
Just a bit of context for this reading, which you may well be familiar with (always good!)
The woman at the centre of the story seems alarmed that Jesus should have asked her for a drink. Her reasoning is that Jews and Samaritans don’t associate with each other. It’s historical, as many of these prejudices are.
The antagonism goes back to the late sixth and fifth centuries B.C. when exiled Jews returned to Judah from Babylon, and it’s all to do with racial mixing and a weakening of Jewish blood. The rift got wider when they built a rival Temple on Mt. Gerizim, and by Jesus’ time contact between Jew and Samaritan was almost entirely prohibited - they certainly wouldn’t share pots, pans or drinking vessels.
Plus, a Jewish rabbi, i.e. Jesus wouldn’t even think of carrying on a public conversation with a woman. Unheard of!
So, Jesus breaks down a couple of pretty hefty barriers in the verses we heard.
Now we know the woman was not considered very highly in the town where she lived because of what Jesus revealed about her. But the thing is, there was almost certainly water where she lived, so the fact she had to walk half a mile or so to this old well to get hers might well reflect her low social status.
So, for this woman, water supply was a real issue, as it was for Jesus who was thirsty!
But Jesus of course was never going to let this conversation simply be about physical thirst and a bucket of water, that wasn’t the way he worked – every situation was an opportunity to spread his message.
The Jews had more than one use for the word translated ‘water’ because they used it in the context of a thirst for God and quenching that thirst in the soul with living water, so when Jesus starts talking about ‘living water’ to the woman it’s not necessarily a phrase that a Jew would be unfamiliar with. It’s echoed in the Book of Revelation ‘To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life’ (Rev 21:6).
But the Samaritan woman is presumably unfamiliar with this image, takes it literally and gets a bit confused!
But not confused enough to refuse what Jesus is actually offering her when she realises who he might be. What she has to do first is come to terms with who she is and the life she has led, and then let God do the rest.
What she actually does is head back to where she lived and tell anyone and everyone she met what had happened at the well, and her enthusiasm is enough to bring others to Jesus and belief – not just because of what she said, they tell her, but because they have heard it first-hand. However, that does not lessen the impact that this woman had on that town. She was a missionary!
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
No-one becomes a Christian because of someone’s words, however inspiring or encouraging they might be. All that does is draw the person nearer to God, and allows the Holy Spirit, that ‘living water’ to flow into their lives – just as it did with those townsfolk. That’s the way mission works – ordinary people sharing their faith, new or old, and leading people to where they can meet Jesus.
We heard earlier of the people of Israel who stood accused of testing God. They’d seen and experienced so much of what God had done and yet could not bring themselves to the point of fully trusting God to supply all their needs. Their faith, inherited from their parents and grandparents and so many generations back was not enough for them, as they prepared to threaten Moses with possible death.
The Samaritan woman was not having an easy life, probably due to her own lifestyle, but it did not take her long to realise what had just happened at the well. Her thirst, like the Israelites in Moses’ day, was both physical and spiritual, and she grasped both with enthusiasm, and wanted to share her joy with others.
Our readings challenge us. Are we comfortable, somewhat complacent followers of Christ, going through the motions and then getting annoyed when life goes pear-shaped or not as we want?
Or are we, like that Samaritan woman, ready to accept that our faith is lacking, and our lives imperfect, and grasp that overflowing glass of living water that quenches our spiritual thirst and enlivens and strengthens both lives and faith – and prompts us to share this experience with others?
That’s how churches grow, when people see what God can do in us.